Frontline Reports is a monthly series that provides updates on the countries, contexts, and situations in which we work as they continue to evolve. The reports are written entirely by program experts and local staff on the ground.
A Complex Crisis
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Referred to affectionately as the Heart of Africa; rich in resource, culture and beauty. The nation has some of the greatest concentrations of valuable raw minerals in the world, and Eastern Congo, in particular, is fertile and ripe for agricultural development. And yet this nation and its people have been engaged in a cycle of conflict and violence which has stolen more than five million lives and kept millions more from being able to realize their full potential.
In 1994, the devastating effects of the Rwandan genocide spilled over borders into the DRC, Burundi, and Uganda. Since that time, Eastern Congo has suffered constant unrest and instability. Dozens of armed groups have operated in there, at the great expense of the local population. Cyclical conflict and political gridlock have exacerbated problems of underdevelopment in the region, and the most vulnerable still suffer from interrupted livelihoods, inadequate systems of justice and lack of physical and mental health care–particularly for women and girl survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).
The overwhelming nature of the ongoing conflict in Congo can oftentimes be discouraging, made harder by the fact that we cannot claim to have all the solutions to the complex problems facing the nation at this moment. But at World Relief, we see beyond these seemingly devastating challenges. And we have hope, because we know that the solutions to Congo’s challenges, as well as the capacities to implement them, are already inherent within the communities we serve. That is why, beyond addressing the immediate humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable in Eastern Congo, we go a step further to work with and alongside churches and community members toward long-term sustainable change.
In our sexual and gender-based violence program, we not only provide immediate peer-to-peer psychosocial support and links to medical and legal services, but we also work to change community perceptions and stigmas surrounding SGBV survivors. In communities where survivors are often blamed for what happened to them, World Relief is mobilizing churches and communities to change hearts and minds and to speak out against SGBV to prevent future incidents, as well as to reintegrate survivors into their families and societies.
Similarly, our Peacebuilding work fills a crucial gap for community members seeking justice at the local level. Village Peace Committees (VPCs) do not just provide short-term solutions to disputes, but interrupt cycles of violence and revenge by focusing on reconciliation and forgiveness. Most importantly, families and community members form agreements to bury grievances, relationships are reconciled and potential tensions dissipate before they have the opportunity to spur conflict among wider groups.
In our Agricultural program, we not only equip farming households with improved seeds, tools and training to maximize yields, but we also train them on how to save seeds for future seasons and connect them to savings groups so they can save the income earned from selling their surplus produce and increase their household safety net.
In each of these solutions, World Relief comes alongside local churches– the widest and most influential social network in Congo. We currently work through more than 250 churches which are actively mobilizing more than 950 volunteers to reach the most vulnerable, both within and outside their congregations. It is these community members who will remain–long outlasting World Relief’s presence and ultimately catalyzing transformation in their communities.
These solutions, and ultimately their impact, may not grab headlines. Transformation will not be sudden. Yet at World Relief, we take heart in these small beginnings. Because we know that the Lord rejoices to see this work begin (Zechariah 4:10).
We are grateful for our partners who have had, and continue to have, the courage to embark on a journey of transformation one household, one church and one community at a time. As an old Swahili proverb reassures, “The careful traveler goes far.”
Thank you for your continued support.
Heidi Dessecker joined World Relief in 2010 and has served in both the US and International Programs. She currently serves as the Program Officer for Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and Sudan. Heidi is passionate about gender issues and reaching women in some of today’s most complex crises.